KOKOMO, Ind. — There’s nothing like a good game of pingpong to serve up an adventure that will take you around the world.
Freshman Craig Simon surprisingly found that an impromptu game of pingpong with the deputy mayor of Dongyang, China, Kokomo’s sister city, would score him the opportunity of a lifetime as the first-ever traveling diplomat for Indiana University Kokomo and a local school corporation.
“If I hadn’t played that game, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “You can read about any country in the world all you want, but you learn a lot more when you are actually there. People have so many ideas and mindsets, and to be prepared for that, you have to be open to those ideas and mindsets. This is preparing me to be a global citizen.”
As an ambassador, Simon earns internship credit toward a degree focused on international studies at IU Kokomo, while the Kokomo School Corporation pays for his travel and supplies a stipend. In return, he maintains a series of blogs and other social media accounts, which local teachers can use to expand international-mindedness. He also will spend at least 90 hours in classrooms during the year.
While taking his college classes online, he will travel overseas three times each semester. He’s currently on a trip to France and Italy, after recently visiting England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland in August. Later in the first semester, he will go to Turkey with a group of Kokomo teachers.
“This is a unique opportunity for Kokomo Schools and IU Kokomo to partner to help students see the global world through Craig's eyes. He is a mature young man who will do great things someday to impact our world,” said Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke. “I applaud Superintendent Jeff Hauswald for his vision on this initiative. I hope more students who graduate from the International Baccalaureate curriculum at Kokomo High School consider an international studies major at IU Kokomo. This is only the beginning; this partnership holds so much promise for the future.”
In 2015, Simon will go to China and Hong Kong, and he is waiting to see which countries will be on his itinerary for his final two trips.
After their pingpong match, the deputy mayor invited Simon to visit his city, as part of a delegation of Kokomo leaders going to Dongyang. As they traveled, the group, which also included Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke, Dean Christian Chauret from the School of Sciences, and Associate Librarian Yan He, along with Kokomo Schools Superintendent Jeff Hauswald, Principal Mike Sargent, and Kokomo School Board member Joe Dunbar, developed the idea of a student diplomat.
Kokomo Schools officials plan and pay for Simon’s travels. In return, he blogs about his experiences, Skypes with Kokomo classes from his travels, posts pictures on Instagram, and visits classes while he is in Kokomo.
If this pilot year is successful, another student could have the same experience next year, he said.
“This is a great opportunity for any student,” he said. “The amount you learn from this travel is phenomenal. Because of today’s society, and how globally connected everyone is, no country is separate. Everything is open. You can be competing for jobs with someone from anywhere in the world. Traveling opens your eyes to the possibilities in the world.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.